Monday, December 12, 2011

Day 671 : Jasper Hill Farm

 On to our last and final cheese stop on this trip and definitely the most remote. I arrived in Greensboro, Vermont to recognize that whoops I had only written down the PO Box address of Jasper Hill, not the actual address of the creamery, great planning on my part. After some attempts at googling where I needed to go, a nice woman drove up next to my little Chevy and inquired if I needed help. Thank god, I thought! After following this woman down a series of icy snow covered dirt roads definitely not the sort I could have navigated on my own, I arrived at an unmarked set of buildings which my friends was Jasper Hill Creamery.

Jasper Hill Farm was purchased by Andy and Mateo Kehler in the late 1990s but it wasn’t till 2002 that they decided to turn the land into a full fledged dairy farm.  This is a story of two brothers looking to make a living off of the land in a part of the world that was near and dear to their hearts. Could they stimulate this rural region of Vermont by giving back to the community through their cheesemaking and also support both of their families?

The Greensboro area when the Kehler brothers began to toy with the idea of building a creamery had only seven dairy farms and had recently witnessed the sale of 30% of the town’s cows. In 2002, the Kehler brothers bought fifteen cows to the region which was a huge improvement for the area’s agricultural economic growth.

2002 saw the construction of their original creamery building with space for aging cheeses in the basement. On May 16, 2003, they made their first batch of cheese. Today they make Constant Bliss, Bayley Hazen Blue, Harbison, Moses Sleeper and Winnimere. What is interesting about their operation is that instead of starting with one cheese and going from there, the brothers started manufacturing a few different cheeses at once to maximize their revenue and stimulate their profits.

In 2006, their next big break came when they received a call from Cabot, would Jasper Hill be interested in aging some of Cabot’s artisan cheddar to help introduce a higher end product to the market place? Of course they would! This phone call changed Jasper Hill forever. Now because of that initial call and their partnership with Cabot on this one cheese, Jasper Hill has a state of the art cellars area, unrivaled in the region.

In 2008, as told to me by Andy Kehler, the brothers went out and raised $400,000 to blow a hole into the ground across from their current cheesemaking facilities and then they approached the banks to receive the necessary approximately 3 million dollars to build their seven cheese aging caves or cellars that are each individually temperature stabilized depending on the cheeses that will live in the space. Currently they are at 30% occupancy and that is with hundreds of their cheeses and the cheeses of Cabot and eight other smaller farms that simply do not have the resources of facilities to age. The caves are designed to hold up to close to 5,000 cheeses per room.

Walking into the first cellar that was lined with rows upon rows of approximately 35 pound wheels of Cabot Clothbound, I was blown away. This was aging unlike anything I had seen in this country, let alone on the East Coast and in such a small town like Greensboro. It was in that moment I realized that I was witnessing the dream of two brothers, two families, and a community come true and they aren’t stopping there.

Down the road a bit, into Hardwick, the Kehler brothers are helping create the Food Venture Center, a food incubator. By that I mean, a shared space where small food companies can rent out kitchen or baking space to get their company off the ground. There are services to help you with your business plan and to help you design your business cards and more. The Kehlers plan to start producing some of their cheese in this space and then aging it back at the farm. In fact today was their first day of cheesemaking there. In the future they hope to begin to craft an Alpine style cheese at the Food Venture Center as well, a departure from their current cheese line. Also on their calendar is the introduction of goats on their currently all cow farm. But that’s a bit down the road.

Overall my visit to Jasper Hill was totally awe-inspiring. This is really what it looks like when you follow your dreams and you are able to succeed. In their own little corner of the world, the Kehler brothers are stimulating the agricultural economy to its fullest and encouraging their community to think outside of the box when it comes to food and wine production and ultimately work towards the end goal of having Vermonters eat and produce local as much as possible.

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